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VOL. 36 | NO. 41 | Friday, October 12, 2012

Reserve QB Smith ready to toss clipboard

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Some say Rusty Smith has one of the best jobs in professional sports.

As a third-string quarterback, he doesn’t often get his uniform dirty or worried about being injured by punishing hits.

Instead, he carries a clipboard, maybe wears a headset to hear play calls, and basically has the best seat in the house. He also gets to be part of an NFL team.

But reality for the Titans’ third-string quarterback is vastly different from the good life envisioned by armchair quarterbacks.

Even though Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck stand between him and a starting role, Smith yearns to be in on the action, not just a guy who practices during the week and is inactive on game day.

“I think if you have any sort of competitive nature in you, that any player in the NFL wants to be a starter at his position. It doesn’t necessarily have to be at quarterback; it can be at any position,” says Smith, who came to the Titans in 2010 as a sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic.

Most NFL non-starters tell themselves – and are told by coaches – to always be ready, that they are one play away from being called upon due injuries to the violent nature of the game.

In Smith’s case, if he’s even active, he’s normally two plays away since Locker and Hasselbeck would both have to leave the game for him to get a chance.

And until Sunday’s loss in Minnesota, Smith has watched each of this season’s games from the sideline, wearing street clothes.

On Sunday, because of Locker’s shoulder injury and the Titans’ embarrassing 30-7 loss, Smith actually saw some mop-up duty at the end of the game. He went 3-for-5 in the first regular-season game action since his rookie year.

“I know that it’s possible to be two plays away. That’s all it is. It’s difficult to tell yourself and believe it, that you’re only two plays away. But that’s what my job is and what my role is. You find a way to stay in it,” Smith says.

Smith prepares each week alongside Locker and Hasselbeck, even though the odds of his seeing any playing time are, at best, remote.

As a third-string quarterback, the Titans’ Rusty Smith finds himself in an increasingly rare situation. Many NFL teams are keeping only two QBs, opening the roster spot for depth at other positions.

-- Ap Photo/Chris O’Meara

“In some ways, that makes it the most challenging,” says Titans quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains. “You really are two plays away from being the guy. Rusty has been around for a long time now. We drafted him, and we feel good about where he is in his development,

“He studies just as hard as Matt and Jake. They all watch film together. Rusty knows the game inside and out. He’s awesome on the sideline with Jake and Matt playing because he knows the game so well. For a guy that has only been in the game for three years, from a mental side, he’s much further along.”

Smith says he tries to contribute on the sideline with observations about opposing defenses or what plays might work in certain situations. It’s his way of being a part of game.

Still, it can be frustrating.

“I would say the most difficult part of it would be the mental part, being able to prepare every week as if you could play,” Smith says. “Because, honestly, on any given day on a Sunday morning, if one of those guys wakes up and has the flu or whatever, they’re not dressing, and I’m active.

“And I have to be prepared, in case I go in there. Mentally, it’s extremely difficult to prepare yourself and watch the film and get the mental reps on the field whenever you could be back there kind of chilling and not really paying attention. It’s hard.”

Smith can take some comfort in the fact that the Titans value him enough to keep him on the roster.

With only 53 spots on the active roster, teams need depth, special teams help. Many NFL teams have opted to go with just two quarterbacks, making the third-string signal caller something of an endangered species.

In that scenario, a third quarterback is kept on the practice squad then, in case of an injury, the team simply finishes the game as best it can and either promotes the practice squad player or signs a free agent.

“Rusty has a really good skill set,” Loggains says. “He’s got a big arm, and he’s strong and smart. So we do see an upside in Rusty.

“That’s why he’s still here, because it’s hard to keep three anymore. You look around the league, and every year it seems like there are more and more teams keeping two. We do like Rusty and we hope he continues to get better.”

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is the AFC blogger for National Football Post.